Printed books, r.i.p. (not an original thought, but new for me)

Tail wags dog, would have been my disbelieving reply to anyone who told me what I’m about to say. Last week, I watched a two-minute YouTube video promoting John the Revelator, the first novel of a young Irish writer, Peter Murphy, which is being published by Faber and Faber – and was sure I’d like to buy the audio version of his book, . . . but not the print one.

I’ll go further. Watching the micro-video in the midst of this blogging test has finally convinced me that in ten years, most of us won’t be reading new books on plain Jane e-readers like the Kindle. Books will indeed be the multi-media objects that some futurists have been droning on about for some time – and we’ll have to find a new word for their replacement, as different as ‘parchment manuscript’ from the dead tree objects we still hold dear today.

That an advertisement should have been part of what led to this conclusion strikes even me as daft beyond belief. I’ve lived happily without television for most of my life, mostly because I detest TV ads and (with the exception of Anna Ford) the voices of newsreaders. I use ad-blocking software on my computer.

I must now admit that my liking this quirkily charming video was probably over-determined – since it was made by Sean Murray, who everyone knows is an ethereal friend of mine. The figure at its centre — which looks like a Notre Dame gargoyle – reminds me of the Murray brand of humour. No one could possibly love Tom Waits more than I do, and the singer in the background reminds me of him. . . Getting to the book itself, the passage being read by a voice I assume is the author’s is a small er, revelation . . . for someone like me, who has always puzzled over why my ex-Catholic friends are the most fervent atheists of all. I’ve shaken my head in amazement when told that threats of eternal damnation, which make laughter stream down my face, were what they had to endure as true, as tiny children.

It’s a beautiful voice, and since I can’t ‘do’ an Irish accent like that in my own head, reading Irish writers, I found it entrancing to listen to him. To buy the printed book, I thought, I’d have to look at a page of the text, which the ad does not supply . . . But it occurred to me that I’d much prefer to keep listening to the reader in Sean’s ad. And then, the awful truth that dawned on me – for those of us sentimental about old-fashioned books – is that I have listened to far more fiction than I’ve read, for the last three years, while doing chores that would make me tear my hair out in boredom without an audio accompaniment.

I found it interesting that I far preferred the advertisement for The Revelator to a video clip for John le Carré’s latest novel, A Most Wanted Man, posted a few weeks ago on the Telegraph site. The YouTube ad is strictly suggestive. It does nothing to spoil the sense of discovery I look forward to, as the book unfolds. There is no information about the plot in it, and no annoying hyperbole about its author.

Much as I’ve admired le Carré, for as long as I’ve been reading books for adults, and as amusing as it is to listen to his voice, I definitely don’t want to be presented with footage of his story’s setting in Hamburg. His promotional video actually shows us the lobby of the hotel in which I think the book opens – and other bits of its backdrop. All that would get in the way of the imagining and feeling of blissful escape, if I were trying to read the novel – something like seeing the film version before the book. No way, I said to myself, watching the clip.

But I’m guessing that for lots of others, that documentary approach is exactly what they do want.

Already, I’ve noticed that the youngest readers of literary blogs seem to have no patience for description of the kind that Dickens, for instance, excelled at. It’s not hard to imagine them preferring to click on a pictorial link for the hotel lobby sequence in the new le Carré than to read him describing the scene.

I’m extremely curious about other people’s impressions from comparing the two videos.


Filed under Book publishing, Editors and editing

46 responses to “Printed books, r.i.p. (not an original thought, but new for me)

  1. wordnerd7

    The original sentence read,

    Sean Murray, whom everyone knows as an ethereal friend of mine.

    That should be, . . .

    Sean Murray, who everyone knows IS an ethereal friend of mine. . . .

    and I’m about to change it.

    Sorry, Sean, if you saw that . . . type in haste, repent, etc. . . . we’ll have to start calling me grandiosenerd . . .

    Sean is actually famous for unusually thought-provoking posts like this one – under a different screen name (and new bloggers will want to know that ‘Darth’ is one of his best friends):

    Comment No. 530345

    May 25 [2007] 22:30

    At the risk of re-inviting the fury of Darth Augustine…

    A number of mid-to-late C20th writers share a narcissistic/masturbatory sniffiness of tone that now makes them sound almost comically out of date. Roth’s one. Bellow, M. Amis, Updike and Mailer are others.

    Interestingly and absurdly enough, the generations who revered them were the same generations able to take seriously — younger readers may wish to look away — the concept of the… (cough)… ‘rock god’. Oh dearie me.

    Thankfully due to feminism, dance culture, and several trillion hoots and chortles, this tone is now seldom encountered outwith the porn industry and certain booksblog posts

    [Offensive? Unsuitable? Report this comment.]

  2. Interesting too that a recent film Be kind Rewind by Michel Gondry ( a true inheritor of the George Melies role of cinema trickery ) features 2 down at heel video store managers remaking Hollywood films on the cheap to compensate for a terrible magnetic accident. The film shows them making the new versions but to see the actual results you have to go on-line. So now even cinema realises that the collective viewing experience may be fragmenting.

    The film is rather sweet and ironically enough is a big budget plea for community art – a form of art that usually has to make do with scraps of money and no publicity.

  3. wordnerd7

    === So now even cinema realises that the collective viewing experience may be fragmenting. ===

    You meant migrating to computer screens, rather than fragmenting — yes? Because the fragmenting began with people settling in for the evening with their rent-a-video films? . . .Be Kind Rewind does sound like a must-see for me. Obviously conceived by someone with a corkscrew mind.

    I wish you’d make a video of your Living Room act(?) show(?) . . . . . . It’s always been my ambition to become part of the furniture, and I’ve been most intrigued by what WRAS thinks you have to do to get there.

    Do you like Christopher Guest’s stuff? . . . I’m thinking of Best in Show more than This is Spinal Tap . . . and would say that there’s a distinct overlap in sensibility, though I don’t sense the ghost of Dali flitting about in the background of his work, as it does — most delightfully — in yours.

    The face of the small boy in the grey t-shirt watching Compost Mentis expressed everything this viewer felt, too. I have bookmarked your site as medicine for some day when I’m in an Extremely Bad Mood.

  4. Wordnerd I like the thought of Christopher Guest’s work more than the reality ( Spinal Tap excepted ) although such is the collective skill of his repertory company, particularly Parker Posey who is always hilarious, that all the films have gems within them.

    To be honest our approach is quite different in that I think Christopher Guest starts from character and works outwards whereas we start from images and actions and work inwards so that the characters “personalities” emerge from what they do rather than any previous inner life. A bit ( but only a bit ) like many of the silent film comedians.

    Our problem is that a lot of our installation work is difficult to film – Living Room was impossible due to limited viewing spaces – literally holes in the walls and very dim or should that be “atmospheric” lighting in the room. We seem to have an addiction to making work that does not transfer well to another medium. Dinosaurs in a YouTube era.

    Interesting to note your wish to be part of the furniture. I have long toyed with the image of an armchair philosopher who is actually an armchair but can’t find the right context to use it in.

    But thanks very much for your kind words – most cheering on this grey sludgy day.

  5. Hazlitt

    Yes I agree with you wordnerd.
    The master classs from Le Carré can only bleach interest rather than add.Fascinating though he is.The magician revealing his tricks,perhaps?The “willing suspension of disbelief” seems to be constantly challenged by location choices.We have become a well informed audience.Imagine how many times we have seen the Los Angeles aqueduct system/reservoir:Chinatown,Point Blank,etc,etc.We struggle with our inner cinematic anorak nerd,ticking off film history.An exception for me was visiting the Prater in Vienna where Welles made his “Cuckoo Clock” speech.Perhaps because it was a cold autumn day?As I left the Prater I stopped to buy some matches at a small roadside kiosk.It seemed very old, a museum prop.I was curious .The old man in the kiosk told me it had featured in the film and had belonged to his father.I wonder if Welles and Cotten……………………………………?
    Didn’t someone say that “beauty is not a property of an artwork….but instead a consciousness of the pleasure which attends the free play of the imagination?”

  6. How nice that Susan and Des have got together.

    I have the perfect place for you. The price is now 1.5 million – but only Rand. It is absolutely unique and perfect for writers and ecologists.

    You can have your own hills and river and well connected to one of the most dramatic and amazing parts of Africa. Ancient caves nearby, huge gulfs of emptiness from high cliff faces just a short drive away. Kruger park – You name it.

    It’s not a safe place – but then was Xanadu?

    What do you say Des and Susan?

  7. BaronCharlus

    Interesting topic as ever, Wordn

    Wonderful trailer for John the Revelator. Shows what you can do with atmospherics and suggestion. Beautifully done, Sean.

    The idea of fiction roaming into new, interactive, regions is exciting – any new art media should be welcomed. Although I confess I can’t sit still for audio fiction whilst a book can breathe me in completely.

    For personal reasons I hope print, or at least the untampered written word, survives. One of the reasons I settled on fiction was its reliance on those little black marks to do all the work. It makes me happy and I don’t want to have to learn film editing, programming, hyperlinking just to tell a story that I could have once used only my imagination for. Perhaps its time to be left out on the glacier.

    Wordn, if you dig that music it is _imperative_ that you get yerself to Amazon and find the singer himself, Blind Willie Johnson, a unique gospel blues slide player from the pre-war shellac explosion. The track used is amongst his most benign, most others are the sort of gut-holy swamp-moan that Waits seeks to emulate. But don’t take my word for it, Pasolini used his wordless Dark Was the Night for his Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Peerless stuff.

    I too noted the irony that Be Kind’s most lo-fi-looking sequences were undoubtedly the most expensive to film. Lovely movie, straight from the Temple-Rooney school of ‘let’s do the show right here’. And are then any hip-hop stars other than Mos with the actual (rather than pretend) confidence to play such a vulnerable, child-like character? Ice Cube wouldn’t dare.

    I’ve dabbled with puppetry on GU myself…

  8. If i had that sort of money, i would buy a cottage on Achill island, gaze over at the sea and tramp Slievemore, a few pints at Linnots and grade the fifty types of mizzen drizzle lashing rain and all four seasons in one vista as the weather rolls in, 3000 miles from the nearest next ladn mass.

  9. Wordy, would love to comment on this but I fly to Singapore in about 30 hours and my cases are still empty. 🙂

    After 9 years of this, I stay grumpy to the excruciating tasks demanded of flight protocol.
    But for what it’s worth, I very much preferred the short trailer to Peter Carey’s latest novel His Illegal Self, based on the NSW outback sometime in the 70s. I thought Carey wrote excellent fiction but I was mesmerised by the signature tune that accompanied his video which seemed to say in a highly intriguing fashion; all that was conveyed in the book.

    Of course it helps, that Carey was himself an ad man for several years first in Melbourne, then New York.

    It’s also interesting how these days I find films (world cinema) as visual stories just as captivating as the printed word when I didn’t before. I could watch Carey’s several times over, easy. But I’ll talk about this in a few days.

    Here’s the video clip:

    Isa, as f0r – Des and Susan – it’s been 14 months now. Where have you been? 🙂

  10. Incidentally, Wordy…

    I wonder if you wouldn’t be interested in this link. Popular British publisher Richard Charkin
    is writing new non-fiction pieces through audio rather than print.
    The Bookseller yesterday…

  11. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, you first, because you have that plane to catch . . . Fine foraging for new ingredients and spices for the communal soup-pot . . .thank you . . . but now you must please not mind me disagreeing . . .

    I’d put the Carey video on the other side of the fence, with the le Carré, but even further from what would make me want to buy a book.

    You say that Peter Carey used to work in advertising, and if he had any say in the making of this sales tool, then it wasn’t just a day job, something he did to pay the bills – the work shaped him. . . . Because he’s been a money-maker for his publishers, I’d guess that his YouTube commercial would be considered state-of-the-art in today’s print publishing.

    And that’s the heart of the problem, for me. PC’s video is professional and calculating and completely at odds with the kind of appeal to lit-lovers that the net has made possible — of which Sean’s video is an outstanding demonstration. . . Powerful publishers are doing things the way they always have – with minor adjustments in communication techniques, in product promotion. . .

    The net is very different. The parts of it that I like value authenticity, above all – serving up something like a piece of cake from your own recipe that you baked yourself on the faded old bone china plate with faint cracks in it. The publishers are still serving elegant, lookalike cakes from Sainsbury – which might taste perfectly fine, but on this aesthetic frontier, we want something with a different taste and ‘mouth feel,’ . . . as I think it’s quaintly called in something like the chocolate business.

    Just like the JLC (le Carré) clip, PC’s has too many hints about the story. Worse, they are in copywriting – ‘hidden persuaders’’ prose. I can admire it when it’s ingenious but I don’t want it anywhere near anything I’d consider reading. . . I don’t want so many hints about the subject of the novel; would much prefer exactly what Sean chose, a micro-sample of the actual text. . . Unless an exceptionally photogenic child is at the core of the story, I feel I’m being manipulated with those eyes and that hair and part of me says sardonically, are you sure they don’t have a grinning golden Labrador to go with him?

    Everything that’s missing from PC’s book-pusher is what Sean’s has: the sense of a real and subtle connection with the story’s raw material. You’ll say, how could I know, when I haven’t read the book? . . . And the answer is that the images we’re looking at and visualising from the words of Peter Murphy’s text have the oddness, the richness, the flat-out outlandishness of something that has simmered a long time in an imagination. The video reflects this.

    I think – can’t check, because a note said he was catching a plane to _________ yesterday – that it’s Sean’s first promotional video. It has a slightly klugey feeling – which seems exactly right for a first novel . . . I love the words, the rhythm of the language in the chosen passage, and the reading is just the right length to give me an idea of what listening to the whole would be like. . . Why didn’t any of this appeal to you?

    . . . Thanks also for the Cherkin link. Can’t comment because I only rarely listen to non-fiction audio books — except for biographies. If I read about facts then I want to know exactly how to find them when I need them. This can be slow work with audio books. Yes you can look at the print version but you have no memory of what you heard in relation to its layout.

  12. wordnerd7

    [These should have been the final paragraphs of my last post — they got left behing in Word, somehow . . .]

    But in the new way that books can — perhaps, will — be sold through the internet, we’ll be making decisions based on calibrations of the taste and judgement of recommenders against our own.

    I, for instance, know by now that there are wide gaps between a lot of what Sean and I like – but that what he likes is always at the very least, educational in the most enjoyable way, for me. And I’ve seen him encourage many of the same bloggers I would, and sometimes draw marvellous blog posts out of them . .. I might post a sample later.

  13. wordnerd7

    @alarming . . . yes I know what you mean about Christopher Guest not being quite the right parallel. He came to mind, actually, because I was wondering how you and your co-conspirators agree on the details of your installations in the conceiving stage . . . was woolgathering about arguments about eg., red hands or purple or yellow ones emerging from the compost mentis heap to stroke the man’s ears. . . And that’s a favourite subject for CG, yes? I mean, what happens behind the scenes – . . . for rock groups, actors, folkies, show dog-fanciers, etc.

    The imperfections in his work fascinate me. As with Altman’s stuff I find myself wondering whether the improvisational feel is deliberate or faute de mieux – but the films are so highly individual in each case that I wouldn’t dream of changing a hair on their heads.

    The slightly scratchy, irritable feeling, leaving a cinema after one of them is always outweighed by the intense deliciousness of particular sequences. Remember the bore from the deep South in Best in Show reciting a taxonomy of nuts – paaaaaahn nuuuuut, hazel nuuuut, — walnuuut, . . . ahhhh : )

    Just two questions for you: how did someone in your group choose that [_________] shade of pink for the pig – which was surely custom-made? Where do you go to order a giant plastic oink? 😉

    === I have long toyed with the image of an armchair philosopher who is actually an armchair. ====

    Stop toying and act, please. I can’t wait.

    @Hazlitt . . . glad you agreed; a _perfect_ reading of what I’ve actually managed to say in that hurried post, and of my intentions in trying to say it.

    This is exactly what I believe, and I didn’t know before I read you that Kant developed the idea so well (I looked):

    === Didn’t someone say that “beauty is not a property of an artwork….but instead a consciousness of the pleasure which attends the free play of the imagination?” ===

    You’ll be interested to know that Fighter-Poets, thanks mainly to your comments – has been the most solidly successful post so far, judging by the hit count. There isn’t a day when a few people don’t come clicking ‘over the top’ 😉 eager to know more about those gifted and brave men. (That’s not true of any other piece I’ve put up.) You really should think extremely seriously of writing a book about them.


    === if you dig that music it is _imperative_ that you get yerself to Amazon and find the singer himself, Blind Willie Johnson, a unique gospel blues slide player from the pre-war shellac explosion. The track used is amongst his most benign, most others are the sort of gut-holy swamp-moan that Waits seeks to emulate. ===

    Particularly after such a marvellous description – surely by the poet in BC – I’ll be following those instructions to the letter. . . One CD for me, . . . and one part of someone else’s Christmas stocking is now safely filled, now, assuming that Willie’s in stock.

    Not surprised that you’ve tried out other IDs . . . I wondered about someone who posted immediately after Des at GU the other day . . . The world contains other wordnerd7s, if you can believe it. …. It’s the reason why I wasn’t allowed to use the name for this blog. Google once delivered wordnerd7 attached to a fundamentalist Christian couple somewhere in the Midwest, I think, and it wasn’t clear if he or she was the main owner of the screen name. S/he has a Yahoo address.

    Sean deserves all your praise, which always comes across as genuine, and a gift . . . You are also so tactful that I’ve decided that you are a very senior diplomat from the North American continent moonlighting in the blogosphere.

    . . . which brings me to @ISA and @Suzan’s conversation.
    ISA, so glad you’re back safely. . . . Haven’t had a chance to go to Donkeyshott for some hours . . . If you’d been doing your homework, you’d know that Des hates flying, even if he has taken up with our gentle globetrotter non-pareil. It’s obvious, innit, that even if stunning Matumi could be just right for her, it’s all wrong for him – how is he supposed to stay in touch with his bardic muse from so far away???? . . . This calls for flexible thinking. ‘Location, location, location’ – the three most important rules for estate agents. How about moving Matumi a few bands of latitude north? Global warming will see that the plants and animals survive . . .

    @Des, this is a poem in embryo. Marvellous words and compression. Please write it: ===i would buy a cottage on Achill island, gaze over at the sea and tramp Slievemore, a few pints at Linnots and grade the fifty types of mizzen drizzle lashing rain and all four seasons in one vista as the weather rolls in, 3000 miles from the nearest next ladn mass.’ === . . Your answer to Innisfree. (sp.?)

    @Suzan, your travelling is making my head dance the polka in double time. . . don’t stop, though, I’m enjoying it. 🙂

  14. Hazlitt

    I shall now crawl back through the mud and wire to my trench,collapsing under all those “hits”.
    Thank-you wordnerd for mentioning me in despatches.I was actually running away but accidentally landed in your trench!
    Would you please just report that Hazlitt charged the guns but got lost in “no-man’s -land” ??? 🙂

  15. BaronCharlus

    Man alive, I can’t get to the end of the le Carre film.

    A masterclass in ‘tell, don’t show’. Change the soundtrack and those blurry shots of people wandering around could be from any documentary on any topic or a regional news report.

    I find le Carre fascinating to listen to, though, watched the Smiley and Tinker Tailor DVD docs with much pleasure. You’re right, Wordn, this is a marketing exercise, not even disguised as anything else (so fair enough, perhaps?). If the intended demographic was different no doubt the editing would be faster and Lily Allen would provide a soundbite but the essential format would remain the same.

    Thanks for looking into the music! And also for your compliments,

    ‘your praise, which always comes across as genuine’

    really means a lot, although

    ‘so tactful that I’ve decided that you are a very senior diplomat’

    would have many of my friends snorting with cynical laughter.

    I only have one GU alter ego and I’ve only used it once. I keep it aside for special operations, like Superman’s cape.

    Funny, the manichean lilt of another, fundamentalist, wordnerd7 and your assertion that ‘threats of eternal damnation…make laughter stream down my face’…

  16. Wordnerd – the pig pink is silk screen ink – chosen because the surface needs to be inflated and deflated endlessly and a paint that cracks wouldn’t do the job. It was a question of choosing paints from a catalogue of shades on offer and trying to find one that wasn’t too girly or My Little Pony garish. Life on the road has dulled and dirtied it to a satisfying degree.

    How to make one. Well we contacted an artist who has experience in weird inflatables. I worked with her on making a clay pig about 9 inches long. The head was cut off and sent to someone who can do the electrics ( the eyes open – the nose and ears twitch continuously ) and the artist took the rest of the maquette back to her studio. It’s then covered with wet paper and various shapes are drawn on it. The paper is taken off and flattened, the shapes are cut out and you have a strange version of a dress pattern.

    The pattern is sent back to us and my colleague and partner Sue takes over. Each piece is scaled up, cut out and painted pink ( enough toxic smell to fill a huge warehouse ) and then the whole thing is sewn together. In addition a slightly smaller version of the pig pattern is made in the same way but using white parachute material – the idea is to create a wall to keep the pumped air in, pink skin on the outside, white skin on the inside.
    They are fixed together by 300 ties which is why the body looks dimpled.

    There are various other tasks – finding a method of fixing the shape to boards so it doesn’t blow away, trying to find a way of making it comfortable for those who look in ( never sure if we’ve really achieved that ), making and fixing nipples to hang over the holes between each show. The whole process is about 3 months of work.

    Our shows are a continuous series of prototypes. We invent methods ( working with other more clever people of course ) to make an idea but what we’ve learnt seems to be put to one side when we make the next show.

    The next show is a large human head ( 2 metres high ) inside a large garden shed – the forehead has been cut away so that you can see what the head is thinking. We did a try-out last August and will adapt it in February for a touring version for next summer.

  17. wordnerd7

    Suzan — in Singapore? . . . I’m having a hard time deciding what to make of P.Carey. The wikipedes say:

    In 1976, Carey moved to Queensland and joined an ‘alternative community’ named Starlight in Yandina, north of Brisbane. He would write for three weeks, then spend the fourth week working in Sydney. [. . .] Carey started his own advertising agency in 1980, the Sydney-based McSpedden Carey Advertising Consultants,

  18. wordnerd7

    I was actually running away but accidentally landed in your trench!
    Would you please just report that Hazlitt charged the guns but got lost in “no-man’s -land” ???

    Certainly not, Hazlitt. I am saying in a calm and kindly-but-pompous voice, ‘Orderly, would you please put the general on a drip at once – some of that [18] ‘70 Margaux, I think. It’s obvious from the slant of his ears that his metabolism only perks up for a good vintage. . . I’d like him to leave us knowing that there are worse trenches he could have landed in.’

    [p.s. ‘Charge guns’ Do you mean, feed them gun powder? vocabulary greatly strained, this end – it’s the psychology, sociology, strategy and tactics of warfare that interest me, not the big toys. . . Also, am still striving, striving . . . to work out what Welles and Cotton were supposed to have done in or to that kiosk. And I have never been to the Prater or Vienna. And I am not any sort of expert on vintage cinema. No TV=no steady supply of old films over the years. Also, it’s been v. hard work covering up the gaps in my knowledge of TV history in conversations with telly-saturated exact contemporaries. . . . But I am _thrilled_ that we have someone with your credentials on this site. Now if you’d only explain about that location. . .] . . . Will answer about Fisk later. . .

    BaronC, the customer service reps at Amazon seemed a bit baffled when I asked for two gut-holy swamp-moaners and insisted that they should be listed in their database – but they took my order anyway.

    this is a marketing exercise, not even disguised as anything else (so fair enough, perhaps?).

    I’m not sure about that – there was nothing on the paper’s site separating it from editorial content, which mightn’t be violating any rules at today’s Telegraph. I just don’t know . . .On the other hand, the promotional documentary is so very slow-moving that it hardly works as manipulation … Yes I like listening to JLC read his stories.

    alarming, how did you guess that I’m a glutton for such details? Suggest that you post them on your web site for other people like me . . . I have a lot more to say about your account of the construction of Big Pink, . .. soon . . .

    In addition a slightly smaller version of the pig pattern is made in the same way but using white parachute material – the idea is to create a wall to keep the pumped air in, pink skin on the outside, white skin on the inside.
    They are fixed together by 300 ties which is why the body looks dimpled.

    SUCH perfectionism. It’s inspiring. : )

  19. Perfectionism? The experience was more akin to WWWF wrestling. Whilst sewing the pink skin up Sue had to wear a gasmask as the dried paint powdered up to create more toxic possibilities when the needle of the sewing machine passed through the material. There’s a photo somewhere of her in action which looks like some ww2 documentation of parachute making in extreme conditions.

  20. wordnerd7

    @alarming, I sensed that there must be an unusual story behind that beast — but this is hair-raising stuff. . . Says a _lot_ for you that Sue’s still your partner. 😉 . . .

    I think you’ll find that you have to get around the low lighting problem and make videos of Living Room, etc (what about help from cameramen who shoot hibernating bears in caves?). . . . If even the likes of John le Carre feel that they need the technology to sell their story . . . I know that almost everyone on eg., my Christmas list would enjoy being introduced to WRAG’s work in some form . . . So much sadness in the world: we need powerful countervailing forces.

    re @Hazlitt, Monday, 1.43 pm . . . for anyone as puzzled as I was:
    More than just the cuckoo clock…
    Nick Greenslade
    Sunday August 1, 2004
    Observer Sport Monthly

    ‘In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

    Orson Welles’s improvised speech at the end of The Third Man has become for many people the standard, stereotypical take on the Swiss contribution to the world. But does it stand up?

    And Hazlitt, I thought something like this myself, watching both Woody Allen’s Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona — which made you think that the tourist boards in each case chose _all_ the locations:

    === The “willing suspension of disbelief” seems to be constantly challenged by location choices. ===

  21. BaronCharlus

    @ Wordn,

    ‘the promotional documentary is so very slow-moving that it hardly works as manipulation’

    Quite. That was my – admittedly faecetiously made – point about the editing and Lily Allen. I imagined that JLC’s intended audience would respond better to slower editing and a less adverty approach.

    So glad you’ve taken a punt on Blind Wille (the next Blind Wille to check out should be McTell). I do hope you like it…

    The image of the Swiss as peace-loving is a funny one. Their mercenaries made medieval warfare possible, their reputation was near-unmatched. And, correct me if etc, isn’t Orson getting the Borgias confused with the Medicis?


    I love your ideas. The Compost film showed ingenuity, wit and was rather magical. I’ll definitely keep an eye on your site for upcoming London dates. Watch out for the flash of sun from monocle at the back of the crowd, white-clad attendants nervously measuring out snuff. Or a bloke in glasses.

  22. wordnerd7

    @BaronC, I’d meant to cite you as the inspiration for the ‘slow-moving’ criticism . . . apologies . . . but I still like the JLC video a lot better than the one for the Peter Carey book (sorry Suzan : ( . . .). As you say,

    === I imagined that JLC’s intended audience would respond better to slower editing and a less adverty approach. ===

    . . . even if my original objections to the clip are unchanged. . . Well, he’s experimenting with multi- media, and you are, and I am, in this spot . . . and we aren’t even sure of what standards we should be measuring ourselves against. . . But then that could stand as one definition of genuine fun.

    . . . Btw, the latest post was written partly with you in mind. You’d bravely ruled out blaming anyone else for the obstacles you’ve faced and I thought, hmm .. . what radically different approach do I remember reading about?

  23. I’ve just been looking at Steven Augustine’s and Sean Murray’s fiction blogs. I always enjoy their comments and I think I would enjoy their writing on these sites but I do have a problem with the lay-out of the text. Maybe I’ve become addicted to reading stuff set out in a broader way on the page but the single column of text stretching endlessly down is a bit wearing – a bit like going to see a big exhibition where you can see all the pictures in a line on the wall .

    I know it shouldn’t matter and to be honest I’m a bit disappointed with myself that it does but I wish the columns were a bit broader.

  24. seanmurray

    Thanks for posting the link to the film, wordy, and for the encouraging words from you and BC. There seems to have been a technical problem at Faber’s end and the film quality isn’t all it should be, but yeah, it was fun to make (so much easier than writing fiction) and I’ll be doing some more for them next month. Goes without saying that I strongly recommend Peter Murphy’s novel John the Revelator, out in Feb in the UK and August from Harcourt in the States. (I’m actually writing this from the swanky public library in New York, my first visit here since I was three and supposedly destroyed a toilet in an incident my mother still refuses to disclose in full…).

    Alarming —

    Cheers for checking out my site and for the feedback about the layout. One problem with wordpress is that it reproduces the text differently on different pcs (most people have complained that the lines are too *broad*). There’s a story there called Noise 9 (the link’s right at the bottom of the page) that tends to appeal to brainboxes. Do feel free to get in touch via the email address at the bottom if you have any more feedback. Any suggestions most welcome.

    Good to see this place doing well.

  25. wordnerd7

    === – a bit like going to see a big exhibition where you can see all the pictures in a line on the wall .===

    Yes I know what you mean, @alarming. The Louvre, though not actually arranged like that, feels as if it were. I find visits there exhausting, so usually run off to the Jeu de Paumes or Beaubourg as fast as my legs will carry me. . . But @Sean’s answer is helpful . . . I searched a long time for a blog template that would let me post across three columns, but any approximation I discovered struck me as ugly for other reasons.

    Sean you must count @Hazlitt with your encouragers in this space. Consider that he often expresses no opinion at all . . . I’m sorry that you won’t make the leap across another 2,000 miles on this trip to give me my first look, ever, at a blogger comrade. 😦 . . . I see that I’m going to have to break down and _read_ rather than listen to John the Revelator, after all . . . it will be too long a wait before Faber does an audio version (though I suppose you could send them this post as a goad 😉 ) . . . Have you noticed the little leap in YouTube viewings? People must be putting up links elsewhere . . . the view count has gone from 178 when I posted to 358 the last time I checked.

    @alarming, you are right about both the @Augustine and @Murray posts.

  26. Sean and wordnerd I realise I’m coming at this from another angle. In many of our more contained intimate shows often the most important thing is to make sure that the audience can see what we’re showing them and that they are not always aware of how uncomfortable they are. We managed it with the bed shows but the Pig needed constant adjustments and I’m still not convinced we’ve solved the problem.

    We work with steel and wood, you are working with formats, presumably a bit set in stone by the server ( or whoever they are ) so you have to find a satisfying solution to the technical challenges.

  27. Hazlitt

    Well wordnerd after a surfeit of culture in Vienna where you can’t throw a stick at a dog without hitting an Imperial palace or a medieval cathedral, it’s a good idea to walk over the Danube canal towards Leopoldstadt where the Wurstelprater is situated.For me the attraction was the Riesenrad which featured in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.I was amazed to find that the Ferris wheel was indeed the original featured in the film.It’s very clunky Meccano come Victorian technology out of Brunel.It also looks bigger from a distance.
    I remember thinking that the “Gondolas” looked like small railway carriages.Wiki says that there were originally 30 reduced to 15 due to war damage.The park is good fun and very well run.We caught the tram back to the Stadtzentrum and spent the evening in a back street bar which made it’s own beer.The walls were covered in old theatre posters and a nicotine patina.We shared a cubicle table with two well dressed old ladies who drank us under the table!I regret to say my plan to recite the Welles cuckoo clock speech backfired when my Swiss wife refused to ride on the hundred year old wheel.So perhaps Welles was right? 🙂

    Baron:I think he meant the Borgias as in they were more cruel therefore despite this??Although checking Wiki the Medici seemed to have been around longer.

    Wordy:I am not a cinema buff.Everyone has seen the The Third Man surely?See! There you go again promoting me to an expert.

    Actually,I doubt they have.We are showing our age:)

  28. wordnerd7

    @Hazlitt, I still haven’t cottened on to why Welles’ and Cotten’s relationship to that kiosk merits extended ellips. . .ical treatment, and now I know that you aren’t going to tell us. : (

    You can’t be suggesting anything salacious because Welles was obese and Cotten, according to Reed’s assistant director, ‘had as much sex-appeal as …. you could have fed him to the birds.’ (Imagine _that_ for an epitaph. . . phew.)

    The Swiss-Germans I’ve known are almost indistinguishable from most Germans, except for being more anxious – but people from both groups have usually struck me as frighteningly practical. So I’m going to assume that your wife – if Schweitzer-Deutsch is her language — was just exercising good judgment in refusing to get on the famous wheel. If she’s from either of the two other ethnic groups, you just didn’t think of making it a dare. That’s how a friend of mine got a first wife deathly afraid of heights to climb into the bell-tower of about two dozen churches they travelled to in their Orange VW bus – probably about the time you woke up in SamJ’s field in France.

    But the thing is, . . . while having her up your sleeve shows why you’d be abnormally interested in the speech, only a film buff would have slipped a mention of it into a post the way you did.

    Your secret handshake was wasted because you were only addressing a nerd who did, as you say, see The 3rd Man, like everyone else, but with toothpicks holding eyelids apart at a late-late show at the Gate Cinema (does it still exist?) in the distant past. … Also a nerd who had to take one of David Thomson’s magnificent reference books off a shelf to learn that Welles squeezed the personal obsessions that shaped his Kane into everything he did, even when . . .

    === . . . hypnotising Reed into his own style and making a sophomoric speech about Switzerland a highlight of the film. ===

  29. Hazlitt

    Welles was a tease and a quick gander reveals a list of artists from a smaller country than Italy:
    Sohie Arp,Klee,Le Corbusier and it seems lots of contemporary video/installation artists etc,etc.
    As for the cuckoo clock it’s alive and singing under the guidance of a clever chap called Hayek who runs Swatch and enjoys a billion sfr worldwide turnover.The swiss economy is the world’s envy.
    I’m sure Welles would have preferred shares in cuckoo clocks rather than having to make sherry advertisements for TV in his portly old age.
    I’m not sure I know myself why I mentioned the kiosk,wondering if Welles bought some fags there maybe?…………….or perhaps?………..then again……..:)

  30. wordnerd7

    Ah, I see they’ve got you locked up and on a diet of Valse vasser (sp.?) and cold congealed fondue at the Tourist Board, @Hazlitt. . . but tell them the disinformation has reached its targets, now. : ) Knew about Corbu but not Giacometti being Swiss . . . I might even be jealous if they could also claim Brancusi.

    Thank you for that most delightful expedition to Vienna, cigarette kiosk and all — also for the excuse to waste time reading about Welles. I have a sibling who thinks he’s god, so usually give the subject a wide berth.

  31. Hazlitt

    As in Flaubert’s Parrot by J.Barnes the quest after Welles could begin at the kiosk,moving on to the giant ferris wheel and then to the sewer system,littered with much subjective speculation and eventually defeat and futility like many human endeavours my dear wordy………zither music fading in the background…:)

    Valserwasser 🙂

  32. wordnerd7

    @Hazlitt, I’m sure I’m not the only comrade who has … for some time . . . read the riveting pictures you lay out for us and felt I should be jumping into a cab, shouting, ‘Follow those eyes!’

    About my mention of Brancusi I meant to tell you that I was sure he was Swiss too, until wiki set me right .. . also that I’ve never met any of his pieces as material objects, only pored over photographs of them, and that I don’t like all of them – some of them are much too cute – and really have always been most enamoured by his ‘muse’ carvings. This one at the Guggenheim, . . . … for instance. Such serenity; such faces, with features borrowed from everywhere, I’ve always thought – whether or not that’s true. Length and proportions like extra-beautiful Somalis or Ethiopians; Mongolian cheekbones; delicate noses and mouths from perhaps Quattro cento angels.

    Do you suppose a really good photograph can be nearly as good as being close enough to touch a sculpture? . .. I would say, yes, from my experience of comparing, but am not expert in either sphere —

  33. wordnerd there’s a reconstruction of Brancusi’s studio outside the Beaubourg Centre in Paris. The endless column in Rumania is the one apparently – a friend saw it a while back and raved about it. But all his work has a tactile quality that works when you see it even if some pieces do resemble, as you say cute Japanese cartoon figures.

    Tingueley is another fave. And Swiss! The retrospective in the Tate about 25 years ago is one of the best I’ve seen. Some of his machines are unbelievably malicious and really do appear to have a life of their own.

    One featured a round table with a hole in in the middle. Coming out of it was a small metal rod with another rod bolted onto it lying flat on the table surface. This rod passes through a metal ring also securely fixed to the table surface. At the end of this rod is a golf ball on a chain. There’s a button to one one side and when you press it the first rod goes up and down like a manic piston. This causes the other rod to rattle about – the ring constricts it’s movement but also makes it far more frenzied. This cause the golf ball on the chain to fly about and basically start demolishing the table surface.

    Quite shocking to start with, you really do flinch when the thing starts up and then really quite hilarious. His career was full of mischief-making and aesthetics that are arrived at through assembling old mechanical bits and bobs.

  34. wordnerd7

    @alarming . . . a close cousin to Heath-Robinson then? I mean Tingueley, who I’m sure I’d like, from your description. Was lucky enough to see a lovely bijou collection of HR’s work at a museum in Bath in 2004. . . Haven’t had time to go through @Hazlitt’s list, looking up the artists I didn’t recognise.

    . . . a fretful feeling came over me, reading your mention of Brancusi’s reconstructed studio, and on _that_ spot. The column looks tediously phallic in the pictures I’ve seen . . . as for the texture of the others, . . . you know you can actually sense that from the photos.

    Thinking of the touching-seeing gap . . . I remember seeing my first Henry Moores and Rodins years after I’d seen them in large glossy books. Was astonished that Auguste’s work made me feel small; . . . but expected that Henry’s would — didn’t mind because they were so profoundly calming.

  35. @alarming, sorry, I failed to complete this thought:

    === . . . a fretful feeling came over me, ===

    I meant, about being too far away to pop over and see the Brancusi studio.

  36. Tingueley doesn’t have Heath Robinson’s narrative in his machines. They are essentially pointless machines that move in a variety of ways – aggressive, lyrical etc. but are abstract rather than the solution to one of life’s little problems that HR use to conjure up.
    I like them both but Tingueley is a tougher kettle of fish ( an appropriate way of describing him I feel ).

  37. wordnerd7

    === but are abstract rather than the solution to one of life’s little problems that HR use to conjure up.

    @alarming, you won’t mind, I hope, if I’m a bit sceptical about . . . for instance, these:

    === * “The Wart Chair. A simple apparatus for removing a wart from the top of the head”
    * “Resuscitating stale railway scones for redistribution at the station buffets”
    * “The multimovement tabby silencer”, which automatically threw water at serenading cats ===

    I looked up Tinguely, who made me think of Chaplin and Modern Times . . . couldn’t find a video online – probably because I didn’t have long enough to search.

    But I don’t see how he could compete with WHR, with whom I think I’ve been besotted since I was born.

    @Suzan, yes I hope Unpub returns soon – recognisably himself. He gets embarrassed about compliments, so I’ll stop there . . . Would be nice to know what the book he did seem to have published was about. Maybe he’s just immersed in the next one.

  38. You may well have seen the fountain outside the Beaubourg which he made with his wife Niki de Saint Phalle – there’s one machine that sprays water outside of the pool it’s in.

    I’ve never read those descriptions and I’ve got a huge book of his life’s work! But Tingueley is very connected to the European avant-garde of the 50’s and 60’s whereas WHR is one of those extraordinary eccentrics that Britain seems to regularly throw up. I always like the drawing of string in his pictures – the knots are in exactly the right places so as not to impede the necessary movement of a fly wheel but also to stop it at exactly the right moment. These details help you to imagine the machine in movement. A great way of spending time.

    Tingueleys drawings in comparison describe nothing other than a blur of movement.

  39. wordnerd7

    Ah, I can’t remember any fountain, sadly — gauging the length of queues being the usual preoccupation, going in, and getting something to eat and drink as fast as possible the main thought going the other way. Besides, on my way out, my head is usually full of impressions of the work I’ve been looking at inside the galleries.

    === I always like the drawing of string in his pictures – the knots are in exactly the right places so as not to impede the necessary movement of a fly wheel but also to stop it at exactly the right moment. ===

    You’re a first-class noticer, @alarming . . . Something that’s struck me only now is that while friends over the years have often included artists who — like you, and one or two others on the books blog — are well-read and unusually good at communicating in text, I’ve rarely met your opposite. I mean, professional writers of any kind able to discuss the ins and outs of some branch or branches of the visual arts in detail.

    This is a question for anyone, not just @alarming (who I’m afraid of taxing with too many questions) — . . . Does the need to communicate in text to sell art or get funding of some variety mean that almost any successful visual artist must have, or must develop, a facility with words — whereas writers can get away with complete ignorance of visual communication? . . . Are there m/any writer equivalents of the artists posting about books and literature on literary blogs on, for instance, GU’s art & design blog, which I always mean to make more time for but almost never do?

  40. Hazlitt

    Alarming you will have to visit Basel,they have a Tinguely museum.Which I haven’t got around to visiting.It’s been on my mind for yonks.Zurich airport has a large Tinguely sculpture which is perhaps inappropriate viewing just before take off??!!
    Tinguely is Art.WHeath Robinson is Humour.
    All art is artifact,but not all artifact is Art!

    Wordy, I’ve run out side and am now flagellating my naked body in the icy snow 🙂

  41. wordnerd7

    Dear oh dear @Hazlitt . . . such carrying on . . . and at this all-hands-on-deck moment . . . reports streaming in of GU mods butchering comrades without mercy (@BaronC’s latest post in Salvage Operation.) . . . Stop that cavorting and put this on immediately! [tosses gender-neutral, motheaten, fur-lined djellabah/muumuu to _particularly_ daft blogger.]

    . . . Well if you must have a caste system for artists, then you’ll think it fitting that one of my first thoughts with eyes opening this morning was that Heath Robinson didn’t have an enviable colour sense; also that any attempt by him at representational art was pretty horrible (his lines lack lightness & cunning and the colours border on muddy). A second category of work I’d call strictly schematic/diagrammatic — and the fun is all in the idea, in those. . . But his genius was most expressed most delightfully in what I’d call graceful cartoons . . . Would you — in good conscience — deny cartoonists entry into an artists’ kingdom of heaven? . . . even if images from one or two of his drawings were crucial to my ability to get out of bed this morning, facing a week of irritating obligations (eg., the detestable task of shopping)?

    @alarming — I didn’t of course mean art critics when I mentioned skilled writers who know about art as much as artists like you and @Hazlitt do about literature. . . And I did mean skilled even if I said professional writers — acknowledging @Des’s point that ‘real’ writing is no less so for sitting in a desk unpublished.

  42. 3p4


    All art is artifact,but not all artifact is Art!

    All art is creativitity but not all creativity is art

    food,,singing,,dancing etc
    banking,,lawyering,, etc
    all of mans paradoxes hypocracies and oxymoronic
    contradictions can be explained by two words,, and “creative” is one of them,,

    (the creative is totally blind to mirror neurons,,and that statement (blind) is a bit of a ‘boing’ moment for me
    so i choose to stop suddenly,,must absorb)

    acknowledging @Des’s point that ‘real’ writing is no less so for sitting in a desk unpublished

    it is much the less so for being intended for publication,,intent is the yardstick of art,,

  43. Hazlitt


    Have given birth to more blushing flowers unseen than a florist on the other side of Mars ……….hmm
    ok,I’m feeling “up”…..have discarded wordy’s,moth eaten,fur-lined,djellabah……………………
    got the whip…………….mirror neurons,…I have never heard of……….thanks.I am working on a web page to retrieve my gems from “dark unfathomed caves”…..coming your way soon…….

  44. 3P4


    by quoting you i wAs not cAlling you out,,but doodling on the bAck of your envelope,,As you Are no doubt AwAre(!) i Am not the most coherent of
    writers,,but i Am very ‘integrity’ in whAt i try to sAy,,perhAps,, since
    you show A quirk…………….. such As i do ,, ,, ,, we cAn hAve some shAred epiphAnies,,

    . ‘RT

  45. wordnerd7

    === have discarded wordy’s,moth eaten,fur-lined,djellabah……………………
    got the whip…………… ===

    (WHY? After all the trouble of looking for it. . . huh)

    Anyone could go cross-eyed effortlessly, reading the last entries in this thread,. . . . and end up looking like this: 8-). . . (I think that’s an emoticon that officially means something else – but I’m reassigning it.)

  46. Pingback: Blog of Revelations » Blog Archive » The Spoken Word

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